Dispatches from a Distance: Dispatch from a Detroit foundation archivist

This is the second of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


by Lori Eaton, MLIS, CA

The economic news swirling around the COVID-19 outbreak frequently references how people with the fewest financial resources will bear the brunt of the pandemic-driven recession. As an archivist and records manager working with foundations, I’ve been awed by how quickly the philanthropic community in Michigan has sprung into action. Foundations are distributing emergency funds, coordinating resources to help nonprofits support clients and staff (for an example, see the Council on Foundations COVID-19 Resource Hub, which provides resources for funders and grantees), and working with grantees who provide direct aid to those in our communities who need it most. 

On March 16, 2020, the Detroit-based foundation where I’ve been embedded for the last year made the decision to close the office and asked staff to work remotely. Thankfully, the foundation moved to cloud-based file storage almost a year ago and had recently enhanced teleconferencing capabilities. Grants are also managed through a cloud-based tool as are board of trustee resources. 

Together with learning and impact staff, I’ve been working to gather and organize a digital library of COVID-19 related resources and records generated by the foundation. We’re collecting files the foundation staff creates but also those of funding partners, grantees, nonprofit support organizations, and state and local government. I’ve taken on the task of naming and describing these files and applying a consistent vocabulary. 

In the near term, this resource library will help foundation staff keep track of the deluge of information flooding in through emails, Google docs, websites, and conference calls. In the future, it is our hope that this library will help tell the story of how both the foundation and the philanthropy community in Michigan rose to the challenge presented by this pandemic. 

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